01 : Shepherd O Shepherd
02 : Billy Boy
03 : Three Jolly Sneaksmen
04 : Trimdon Grange
05 : All of a Row
06 : Skewbald
07 : Mary Neal
08 : King Henry
09 : John Barleycorn
10 : The Cottage in the Wood
First released in the UK 1974 by Deram Records SML1111
Released in the US 1978 by Rounder Records Rounder 3020
Re-issued 1981 by Topic Records 12TS418
CD issued 1996 by Topic Records TSCD418
Martin Carthy: vocals, guitar, mandolin
Recorded at Sound Techniques Studio, London
Engineer: Jerry Boys
Produced by Ashley Hutchings
Illustration by Keith Davis
Photography by Keith Morris
CD sleeve artwork by the Art Surgery
All tracks Traditional, arr. Martin Carthy
In 1847 a New England racehorse owner came to Ireland with his Skewbald horse to face the might of Irish distance racers, and the result astounded racegoers there because the American horse won. American horses were nicknamed circus horses or quarter horses meaning that they were good for a quarter of a mile but no more, and Skewbald horses were just not worth bothering about. The idea of a combination of the two incarnate left Irish sages helpless with laughter, but the prospect of a Gold cup and two hundred guineas to the winner helped them contain their mirth and sent them scurrying for their savings. To their cost.
The words of Billy Boy come from James Reeves’ The Everlasting Circle and the tune from the magnificent Mrs Marina Russell of Upwey, Dorset whose predilection for tunes in the Dorian mode, whilst being a delight to people like me, is probably a source of some annoyance to those academics who like to say the English, as a race, like this or that kind of a tune (and make charts to prove it). She was one of Sharp’s more extraordinary ‘finds’ in his hunt for traditional song, music and dance, being by all accounts an incredibly gifted and inventive singer (and person). From her also, comes Mary Neal of which she had three verses, so I took the liberty of filling it out from other printed sources.
Also from Dorset is Shepherd O Shepherd, collected by Henry Hammond of Dorchester. Although the song crops up in Scotland many times, this is the only English version. The tune is a modal version of the morris jig Greensleeves. You can find this in the ever-popular Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.
Both John Barleycorn and All of a Row are, in their separate and different ways, songs about the cycle of seasons. One has the idea that the corn spirit is indestructible no matter what, and alive in all things remotely touched by it, and the other the idea that the cycle of planting and reaping is of necessity never ending. In a way one idea cannot survive without the other.
King Henry is a heavily anglicised Scottish way of telling the Beauty and the Beast story, the only difference being that the sexes are reversed. It is a song that I very much wanted to do for a very long time and tried several tunes, none of which seemed to work satisfactorily The American tune Bonaparte’s Retreat seemed in the end to carry the song best so with respectful nods towards Mike Seeger, Doc Watson and many others, I swiped it.
There seem to be quite a number of songs (like Sam Hall) which treat very dramatic or tragic subjects in a quite lighthearted way, and usually by doing so they manage to be doubly effective. Three Jolly Sneaksmen, about three unnamed highwaymen, comes from Frank Purslow’s excellent book The Wanton Seed. Rhino means money if you don’t already know.
On 16 February 1882 there was an explosion of either firedamp or coaldust at the Trimdon Grange colliery in South County Durham (which is still remembered to this day) in which seventy-four were killed. The usual fund-raising procedures – all unofficial of course – went into action, and one of them was the writing and selling on the streets of this song. The tune is the Victorian parlour ballad Go and Leave Me If You Wish It to which Tommy Armstrong wrote these words. The tune was also used by Evangelists as a hymn tune both here and in America where it is also known in the guise of Columbus Stockade. I thank Bob Davenport for teaching me the song.
I have always thought of The Cottage in the Wood as being a fragment which, if taken one way was The Laird of the Windy Wa (Cold Haily Windy Night [which is on Martin Carthy’s Landfall]) but if looked at another way is a totally different kettle of fish. What I did was to take it and combine it with another fragment collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from one Billy Waggs called The Lady Looked Out or The Proud Pedlar and with the song part of a cante-fable collected from Kate Thompson by Kidson called One Moonlight Night (which incidentally was versified by Kidson’s wife and called he Robber Groom). I added a couple of verses, and this is the result.
Martin Carthy, 1974
Q Magazine June 1996 ***
With the Martin Carthy reissue programme finally drawing to its close, these two albums represent perhaps the least essential, or historically less interesting, examples of his solo work, despite his high standards – Bob Dylan and Paul Simon both took from him but only Dylan had the good grace to credit Carthy formally on an album sleeve. 1971’s Landfall wins by a whisker over the Ashley Hutchings-produced Sweet Wivelsfield. Landfall’s contemporary songs like David Ackles’s His Name Is Andrew and John Kirkpatrick’s Dust To Dust sit well beside heavy-duty traditional fare such as Cruel Mother and The Broomfield Hill. 1974’s entirely traditional Sweet Wivelsfield, on the other hand, is more adventurous instrumentally and captures a less winsome voice. All Of A Row, John Barleycorn and Skewbald render it more accessible for newcomers.
Reviewed by Ken Hunt
This reference acetate (possibly a one-off) cut by Apple Records is from the collection of Shirley Collins